To the Editor
To the Editor,
This letter is in response to Tim Thomas's articles on the American Physical Society's PROLA archive in the May and June 1998 issues of D-Lib Magazine ("Archives in a New Paradigm of Scientific Publishing: Physical Review Online Archives (PROLA)" and "An Image Archive for the Journal Physical Review"). This archive was prototyped by Tim Thomas and his group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was rather unfortunate that the APS was not given an opportunity to review these articles prior to their publication, as they misstate the current state of the APS electronic offerings and provide a somewhat distorted view of the APS's vision for our electronic journals and archive.
The APS is committed to making all of its journals available electronically. Each of our publications (http://publish.aps.org/) is available online, some since 1995 and all at least back to the January 1997 issue. Currently all electronic journals serve PDF files that are produced directly from the PostScript used to print the journals. The SGML version of the articles is currently only used to create "wrappers" around the PDF deliverables. We are working to improve the quality and usefulness of our SGML so that we can use it as a deliverable in its own right. XML, MathML, and XSL are looking like promising technologies that may finally enable us to serve our math-laden content over the Web in a more flexible and useful format than PDF.
The wrappers mentioned above have always served as the core of our electronic journals. They contain basic bibliographic information such as the title, authors, abstract, and, for subscribers, hyperlinked reference sections to other articles, databases, and journals. Our policy for wrappers is to make them all freely available because they make an ideal target for linking to our journals (http://publish.aps.org/linkfaq.html). Our wrappers supersede Thomas's "doc-info" page by providing information upfront that is of immediate interest to researchers using the journal while providing a natural home for all links and value-added services related to the article. We believe this design to be beneficial to the physics community at large, in no small part because of the way it promotes linking.
The PROLA project's initial goal is to make available the material in Physical Review from 1985-1996 and this is just about fulfilled. To bring PROLA into a production-level server, the prototype has been substantially re-designed to take advantage of modern hardware (fast web servers and RAID arrays) and current web programming techniques. Full wrappers have been added so that PROLA fits in with the rest of electronic offerings. The system has been made fully dynamic with tables of contents, wrappers, and other pages built on the fly if necessary. Thus, changes can be introduced quite quickly without re-building any cached data.
The feedback the APS has received so far indicates that researchers and librarians are quite excited about having access to this material online. Now that PROLA has been put on a firmer foundation, the APS is working to enhance it. We expect PROLA to be publicly available without charge during a 6 month beta test period starting sometime in July. By January, when it will become a subscription product, it will have many new features including a better search engine and greatly improved hyperlinking between articles.
Finally, Thomas also alluded to the Los Alamos e-Print Archive (http://xxx.lanl.gov/) founded in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg. The APS has formed a good working relationship with the archives (yes, it is archival). Currently we link to the them from our electronic journals and they will shortly begin to link to us. Authors can submit e-prints directly to our journals and some of our journals use the archives as a means of disseminating papers to referees for peer-review. Ginsparg's project has always been more than just an application of "well-understood list-serve technology" and its design and infrastructure is quite complex, even more so than the PROLA archive.
The APS is well on the road towards an all-electronic future, but we have only just begun. We recognize that by maintaining flexibility and making maximal use of current technology, we will be able to change direction quickly and respond to any new challenges brought on by the electronic revolution.
The American Physical Society
PROLA Project Manager
Linking Project Manager
It is D-Lib's policy to make stories available "as is". We note that the Mr. Thomas explicitly acknowledged that the work he described was a prototype and that he did not speak for the American Physical Society. Mr. Doyle has graciously agreed to keep us informed of developments in this important electronic journals project as it progresses.
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